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It was deeply concerning to read the continuing antics and decisions being made by the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees. Hearing that the board allows a contract for the superintendent that guarantees a raise automatically when other employees get one is a clear and present self-dealing transaction. Why a superintendent making over $300,000 needs more cash is mind-boggling to any fair-minded citizen. Contracts like this one perpetuates the growing mistrust with public education, misuse of public dollars and the eroding trust for all those involved.
This is the same school board that borrowed $105 million in 2011 in a deal that will require the taxpayers of Poway to pay back $877 million in interest. This billion-dollar bad decision has only gotten worse when coupled with the fact that the board has once again recently approved the use of that same bond underwriter for an upcoming Mello-Roos bond sale. This deal also allows financial adviser Dolinka Group to advise on the deal, as they did in 2011. These past transactions and board decisions led to the state changing the way that school bonds can be created and sold due to the lack of wisdom and carelessness exercised by the PUSD board in 2011.
As a citizen watching these actions unfold, I am left to question the role the public plays in holding these leaders accountable. PUSD has enjoyed a valuable and longstanding reputation as a high-quality school district where parents were seeing academic gains and numerous educational opportunities for their children. The district was also seen as a great place to work and educators looked to this district as a first choice when seeking employment. Board decisions in the past few years have tainted the community’s view and overshadow the district’s past successes.
From following the history and reporting on the activities at PUSD, it is clear that to regain and recapture its past history of excellence, its strength, culture and reputation must be fully rooted in the foundation of great leadership. Reflecting back on the incident where Superintendent John Collins edited a consultant’s report to soften its impact, the act speaks to a district and leader clearly wanting to avoid any appearance of failure. How can leadership deal with a problem they paid a consultant to find, which they then try to cover up? It’s clear that past success has clouded judgment and dealing with any form of failure is a foreign experience to this group.
Voice of San Diego’s recent reporting also covered the fact that the board and the superintendent hired separate attorneys with the possibility of formalizing a deal to have Collins resign his position and leave the district. Be assured that when both sides lawyer up, public revenue is being wasted. In all of this, where is the focus on the students, their needs and their academics? Why is the general public, and Poway residents specifically, allowing this behavior of public officials to continue?
Leadership is about behavior and actions that lead to service and care for people, organizations and the community. From my vantage point as a resident of North County, PUSD is in desperate need for an infusion of common sense, good judgment and solid leadership. If we really want to change the landscape and reputation of public education it is time to stand, speak up with good purpose and demand something better. The status quo has a grip and apathy is counting on us not to react. Can we really afford not to?
Cameron Curry is executive director of The Classical Academies charter school. Curry’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.